'The Great Gatsby' soundtrack and the rich history of the rock star composer
Much has been made of Jay-Z’s involvement with Baz Lurhmann’s epic adaptation of The Great Gatsby. The music mogul has never before lent his name or his talents to a project in this way before (we’re not counting his “inspired by” American Gangster album). Despite the hype, this soundtrack collaboration is fundamentally safe (if seemingly off to a fast start on the charts.). Not only is The Great Gatsby a tent-pole blockbuster with an above-the-title director and major A-list talent, it’s a grandiose celebration of New York jazz age glamour and excess — which in some ways, makes it a perfect fit for the Brooklyn-born superstar.
But Jay-Z is far from the first talent to marry music and movie-making. In recent years, a number of pop, rock, rap, and indie artists have lent their names and composition skills to film projects, including Daft Punk’s electro score to Joseph Kosinski’s TRON: Legacy, The Chemical Brothers for Joe Wright’s Hanna, Karen O for Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, and Skrillex for Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. Like Jay-Z’s involvement with Gatsby, these have been one-off collaborations; other rock stars have managed to have second careers as movie composers — even creating some of the most memorable scores of recent years.
Take a look at some of the most prolific musicians-turned-film-score-composers after the jump.
Duke Ellington (Jazz composer; scored Anatomy of a Murder, Paris Blues)
Ellington’s songs had been featured in films for years, but it wasn’t until Otto Preminger’s 1959 Anatomy of a Murder that the jazz legend first composed an original score. Ellington was even nominated for an Academy Award for his second (and last) original film composition for Paris Blues — the 1961 movie about race, love, and jazz music in Paris, starring Paul Newman and Louis Armstrong.
Mark Knopfler (Lead guitar for Dire Straits; scored Last Exit to Brooklyn, The Princess Bride, Wag the Dog)
Knopfler first found fame as the co-founder and lead guitarist for the Dire Straits, but in the early ’80s he branched out by composing scores for films. His most memorable work is likely The Princess Bride soundtrack for which he earned a Grammy nomination, though he also received a BAFTA nod for Local Hero.
Mark Mothersbaugh (Lead singer of Devo; scored The Royal Tenenbaums, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street)
There’s not enough space on the Internet to write about all of Mark Mothersbaugh’s contributions to film scores, but Devo’s lead singer has had one of the longest and most varied second careers as a movie and television composer. Besides working on a number of Wes Anderson projects, Mothersbaugh scored Rugrats, Enlightened, Big Love, and a host of other television shows. While his scores don’t sound outwardly like Devo, they do boast a similarly distinct voice, with lots of bells and interesting time signatures.
Nancy Wilson (Singer, songwriter for Heart; scored Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown)
Director Cameron Crowe’s collaborations with influential rock stars could be a dissertation all on its own. Crowe has worked with The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg (Singles, We Bought a Zoo), and of course his wife Nancy Wilson. Along with her sister Ann, Nancy made Heart a success with songs like “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man.” But we have to admit, Wilson surprised us when she seamlessly made the transition from rock anthems to emotionally complex film scores.
Clint Mansell (Lead singer and guitarist for Pop Will Eat Itself; scored Requiem for a Dream, Moon, Black Swan)
Clint Mansell is the rare musician on this list who is probably more well-known for his film work. The lead singer and guitarist for the now disbanded Pop Will Eat Itself, Mansell was “discovered” as a cinematic composer by Darren Aronofsky, who commissioned him to score Pi and then Requiem for a Dream. The main theme of Requiem, “Lux Æterna” would become an iconic score, populating movie trailers for years afterward. Mansell was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on The Fountain.
Jonny Greenwood (Lead guitarist and keyboardist for Radiohead; scored The Master, There Will Be Blood, We Need to Talk About Kevin)
Greenwood helped to define Radiohead’s sound, so it was no surprise when he turned his unique voice to film scores. His moody work for Paul Thomas Anderson helped set the tone for both Anderson’s career defining epics, The Master and There Will Be Blood.
Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails; scored The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
Being the force behind Nine Inch Nails’ groundbreaking sound was not enough for Trent Reznor. Along with his work on video games, he — along with Atticus Ross — went on to work with director David Fincher, providing riveting scores for The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and picking up an Academy Award for The Social Network along the way. Reznor’s next score will be for the documentary Bainport: Soul of a City.
So, PopWatchers, what do you think of the continuing trend? Do you like the one-off collaborations like Jay-Z’s or Daft Punk’s or are you interested in hearing what they might be able to do for other films? What are some of your favorite rock star-scored films? Let us know in the comments!
Follow Lindsey on Twitter: @ldbahr